Reparativity and Shitstorms

We were going to talk about this more at the end of the symposium, but didn’t quite get back to it directly. Towards the close of Lauren Berlant’s keynote talk, she said she, “wants reparativity to look bruised too.” I think it almost always does look and feel that way somewhere along the unending process. Since the symposium, I’ve been thinking about reparativity and shitstorms in conjunction with networks of communities, artwork, awkwardness, bodies, sex, shame, as well as collective spectatorship and participation in aesthetics. And I’ve been sleeping.


On Saturday afternoon, Cristina Albu’s talk entitled, “One of An Exposed Crowd: Mirror Affect in Contemporary Art,” focused on public modes of spectatorship, in relation to several art pieces that use mirrors to “render viewers conscious.” She discussed works by Olafur Elliason, Joan Jones, Dan Graham, and Ken Lum. The mirror acts as a binder, a literal reflection, of the crowd. It is a forced self-disclosure of each member of the viewing crowd. In this way, the viewers’ bodies activate the piece, becomes part of the aesthetic, and through that viewing, as well as internal and external dialogue, the affective experience of the collective viewer becomes the art. These experiential artworks are of interest to me as an artist that frequently engages the audience in a participatory way in my art practice and projects. Either in the making or the viewing, or both. I frequently think of this collective spectatorship and participation in aesthetics as a both a metaphor and collective action towards reparativity of our pummeled souls. Especially through modes of storytelling. I also frequently speak with friends of them being mirrors of and for me, and I appreciated Albu’s nuanced look at artwork that incorporates actual mirrors as a way to name this collective connectivity, even though it may be a forced one at the beginning of the experience.


Also that afternoon, Michaela Frischherz spoke on, “Vaginal Visibilities: Shame and the Possibility of Affective Agency,” through her look at the online “Large Labia Project.” This website is a way for collective spectatorship and participation to happen with our corporeal bodies, visually next to each other in photographs, but not physically present with one another. But even more than viewing liberations from bodily shame and awkwardness, these online collections of difference and similarity give way to feelings of connectivity, which can be just as strong or stronger as physical closeness or proximity in a gallery with a work of art and other viewers.


These forms, both in person and online, are ways to bring about reparativity, create community, embrace awkwardness, pleasure, and openness as a courageous way to overcome shame and the erotophobia that plagues our society, which Berlant spoke of later in the day. So what about shitstorms? I will just close with saying that in digging in, opening, committing, and exposing oneself to be connected to each other and networks of communities, there is going to be bruising, cutting, spitting, inconveniencing, and other various shitstorms along the way. Sometimes, along with the laughter, care, love, and generosity, working through those shitstorms in a committed way is what makes reparativity so meaningful and worth the risk.

-Amanda Murphy


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